Skin cancer can be scary and while we cannot always prevent it from developing, there are steps we can take to reduce the risk of getting it. Taking these steps combined with knowing the signs and symptoms of skin cancer can help you get diagnosed and begin treatment before it becomes serious. The dermatologists at Dermatology & Mohs Surgery Institute provide insight on how to reduce your risk of actinic keratosis (AK) and skin cancer below.
More than 58 million Americans have at least one AK. AK is pre cancer that develops before skin cancer may occur and is caused from long-term exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun or tanning beds. If you have AK, you are likely to notice small and crusty raised patches of skin. The patches may be pink, red, white or a combination of different colors. Most often, AK will appear on areas that are most exposed to the sun such as the face, arms, ears, scalp or neck.
Treatment for AK includes cryosurgery, topical medications, shave removal or photodynamic therapy. During cryosurgery, the raised patch of AK is frozen off. With topical medication treatment, a cream is applied directly to the AK. Shave removal involves the dermatologist shaving off the skin in the affected area. Lastly, photodynamic therapy involves applying a light-sensitizing cream and medication. Then, a wavelength of light activates the medication, destroying the affected tissue.
Once you have AK, you are likely to develop more of it and the more AK you have, the higher the likelihood you have of getting skin cancer. If it develops into skin cancer, it most often develops into squamous cell carcinoma (SCC).
SCC is a type of skin cancer that begins in the squamous cells on the upper layer of skin. It appears similar to AK in that it is a crusty or scaly area of skin. It is also usually red and inflamed. It can develop in areas most often exposed to the sun as well as areas that never are exposed to sunlight. It is important to have SCC diagnosed as soon as possible so treatment can begin to prevent spreading. Treatment may include an excision of the affected skin or Mohs Micrographic Surgery. During Mohs, a dermatologist scrapes off the cancerous skin and tests it for skin cancer. The process is continued until no more skin cancer is detected.
To reduce your risk of AK and skin cancer, protection from the “real” sun and the “fake” sun (tanning beds) is key. The best way to protect yourself is to always wear sunscreen and get into a habit of applying it each day. Whether the sun is out in full bloom or hiding behind the clouds, you can still get a sunburn and sun damage and put yourself at risk of AK and skin cancer. Additionally, when you are outside on a sunny day, use additional protection such as sunglasses, hats, or a long sleeve swim top. It is also important to take breaks from the sun by sitting in the shade.
If you have noticed signs or symptoms of AK it is time to reach out to a dermatologist at Dermatology & Mohs Surgery Institute. If you are in Bloomington, Illinois or surrounding area, complete this form and we will be in touch.
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